Friday, February 27, 2009

These Legs Will Carry Me Far

The run was supposed to be 6. But it turned into 10. I wanted to see the other side of the lake. Truth be told I wasn't even feeling like 10 when this all started. "Just 6." My mind kept saying as I moved along the trail. "Maybe even 4. 4 is good too. And very even. Plus less than 6." My mind speaks in simple sentences while running to conserve energy I've found. But then I started the first fartlek and everything changed.

Things normally change for me when I can feel the sense of speed in my legs. Plus I had on the Nike 3.0's. I love these shoes. My feet love these shoes. Ever since I took a flyer and decided to try them I've experienced a rejuvenation in my running. I think it is because there is nothing in these shoes to keep me from running the way I was meant to run. And so it was with that first fartlek, up on my stride, powering through the back side, gobbling up ground left and right, right and left. It was great.

That's when it happened. The single, clear thought crept into my mind and changed the duration and tenor of my workout. "Let's run to the dam!" Before I knew it my legs were complying. But a part of me was concerned. Now I was running 10 miles and not 6. I was still fartleking my way around the lake so there were bouts of intensity interspersed with a few decent hills. Of course I had taken Riverside east which meant running UP to I-35. And of course that sweet hill just past Joe's was right in the middle of one of the up tempo intervals. Great. But the view was worth it.

I've always thought the trail east of I-35 was the more attractive part of Town Lake. But not many folks run there so, when you are on that side, it is as though you have a personal audience with the lake and your own breath. Soul time really. When I raced before, I timed my runs around the lake so that the sun would begin to set or rise as I crossed the bridge giving me just enough time to make it back to my car before dark. Yesterday, I was just lucky. I don't think I will ever tire of seeing the sunlight reflected by the water sparkling like diamonds floating on glass.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yoga and Strength - Yoga For Triathletes

So when you think of yoga, you normally think of people with stick figure bodies who are able to take themselves into shapes that would injure a pretzel. Or you think it would be great to be more flexible and you think of yoga as a way to accomplish this. You may not see much difference in yoga and some of the stretches you've seen or read about. I know I didn't until I'd done yoga for a few weeks. I'll say it for the record. Yoga can be much more challenging than any other physical activity I've ever done.

One of the most notable differences between yoga and simple static stretches is the sequencing. Most good yoga classes follow a well thought out progression which moves the body deeper and deeper into similar but more challenging positions. In fact many of the common poses you may be familiar with such as Downward Dog, Crow Pose, or even a simple Forward Fold are actually "preparations" for deeper yoga poses. The same is also true of many static stretches people come to know and use regularly. These stretches are variations or simplified Yoga poses. Often what is going on in these variations is the pose is modified by taking several dimensional components out of it so that it becomes more accessible for someone new to using their bodies in an unfamiliar way. Static stretches (and most weight machines) often remove the coordinated muscle recruitment that relates to stability. The removal of these components, while making the stretch simple, has the undesirable side affect of doing less to actually strengthen the body. This is a very important distinction.

It is this distinction that has started me to look more closely into defining strength as it applies to what we wish to do with and get from our bodies. This is especially true for people who are requiring their bodies perform specific and highly specialized tasks. With this in mind, manifested strength for a powerlifter is going to appear very different from manifested strength for a dancer or the manifested strength for a runner. But what is similar is all of these athletes share the need for training movements that allow them greater access to integrated and coordinated muscle recruitment which will provide a more economical yet powerful response to performance related stimuli.

Recently I've spent some time watching a local core conditioning class. One of the things I noticed was how similar many of the exercises were to Yoga poses you would find in a movement based or Vinyasa class. However there was one subtle difference. When focusing only on the core as the class did there was very little, if any integration taking place involving the rest of the body as it related to the core. A simple example of this was the use of Plank Pose in the core class. While the class used several versions of Plank, they were all static which largely isolates the core from other muscles in the body by simply creating the tension necessary to remain in a flat plane. You will see Plank used a lot in Yoga classes as well. But with one difference. The pose is rarely held for long periods in static form. The Plank Pose is a transition into other dynamic movements. One such movement is to simply bring a knee up to the chest and hold it there. This movement engages the core in an active manner useful to runners and cyclists. In Yoga the movement teaches the recruitment necessary to move from Downward Dog to a Lunge (or Runner's Pose) by bringing the body forward into Plank, while hovering the knee, and "placing" the foot in between the hands. Experienced Yogis are able to perform this movement silently but if you find yourself in a Yoga class listen when this move is performed and you may be amazed at how much noise is created by people dropping their feet to the floor by simply moving into a lunge.

This all brings me to a quote one of my favorite yoga teachers here in Austin, Sanieh (she is pictured at the top of this post), said in her class once, "We aren't just strong, we are Yoga strong." Her classes reflect this deep understanding of the importance of integrating strength with balance, coordination, and awareness. What she meant with her observation was that while yogis may not possess bulging muscles, they do possess a body awareness and muscular intelligence that allows them to perform incredible acts like handstands, countless arm balances, or the ability to simply walk up a flight of stairs without being heard. It isn't that Yoga is the best or only way to achieve strength. But what Yoga does do is provide a framework for someone to discover hidden strength that can be found within the body by learning to look at an integrative, dynamic training program versus a static one.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some Days You Zero

In keeping with my promise to do more this year with less, I took today off. Not because of yesterdays 45 min bike ride. Nope, in fact I almost skipped that ride. And what's more I really was hurting. But it was 80 degrees yesterday. 80. I. Had. To. Ride. So I capped the ride at 45 minutes and called it a day. The deal was in the morning I paid a visit to my Chiropractor to let him take a look at my right foot. I had been feeling some pain in it at the beginning of my runs and was sure I had some bones that were out of socket/alignment. Nothing that would stop me from running but it was making the beginnings of my runs hard which meant it was easier to talk myself out of running when nothing was really wrong with me. Turns out I was right and a single tug and I knew I was good to go.

As is usual, along with the normal 30 - 45 min chat about what I was up to with my training, Doc finds a leg length discrepancy and some stuff with my neck and before I know it I'm in for the "full" treatment. Well when this happens, I need to be aware that the body I walked out of the office with is not the body I walked in the office with. Because of this I like to give myself a day or so to get used to the new "equipment" before pushing any limits. I know this now. Unfortunately this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

But it was 80 degrees yesterday. So I rode for 45 min. Then I went and had an acupuncture appointment. Between the acupuncture and the adjustment, even a 45 min bike ride was a bit much. Hence I took today off. Tomorrow will be a nice early morning swim. This weekend will be some running and cycling. But right now I'm heading to the sack. So until the real training begins, Peace.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Is Just That

I didn't work out yesterday, instead deciding to honor my body and let it rest. This morning I wanted to get up and run then ride, then go to acupuncture, and end my day by teaching yoga. Well at least I got up. I was up by 9 AM. Then I went back to bed and didn't get up again until after noon sometime when the phone rang.

This meant I had to adjust my plans. So I canceled my acupuncture appointment and went for a run. I'm really liking running lately and I'm learning a great deal about my body and how it is affected by what I'm eating. For instance I'm noticing I recover much faster from the soreness that can accumulate from daily or hard runs if I have more leafy green vegetables in my diet. I don't know why that is but over the holidays I noticed a great deal of soreness from running that went away when I stopped eating holiday food and went back to my normal diet which includes lots of fresh juices and salads which are full of leafy green veggies.

Ever since I discovered this I've been more willing to run and push some limits knowing my body would recover from the physical demands of running more frequently and faster. Today started out fairly easy with about a 10 min warmup which then ramped up in intensity for two steady state 7 min sets with a moderate 5 min recovery in between. I had planned 3 of the 7 min sets but because of my late start, I had to cut it short. But I felt awesome for the whole run and finished with a lot left in the tank.

What I have been really working on is some of the same stuff I use in my Yoga practice and that is looking at the activity of running as a system of ideal muscle recruitment. So just like in Yoga poses when you come to your limits and you have to find a way to explore that edge and come to terms with it, I have been looking at my running in much the same way which is why I find I am not doing as much Long Slow Distance as I have in the past. Now I'm doing parts of my runs at easy to moderate pace and adding some speed where I can stay as relaxed and as efficient as possible. The whole time I am engaged in the act of finding spots of tension and relaxing while attempting to keep my speed as high as possible. This has added a whole new dimension to the process of my running and so far keeps each workout fresh. I plan on keeping this up for the next 6 weeks until I move into mid March when I want to start some track work.

The other workout for the days was a bike ride on the trainer. It wasn't supposed to be a trainer day, but given my "late" start, I had to just put some time on the bike when and where I could. This is one area of my training that I am going to have to spend a great deal of time addressing this year. So I think this week I will just work at getting time on the saddle in while I start to design a plan to address the black hole that has become my cycling ability. I think I'm going to start with addressing the obvious loss of leg strength. That should yield some gains in running speed as well, so I think the time will be worth it. As for the endurance side of the equation I'm going to have to make long bike rides a priority. I'm hoping once I get used to working during the day this will be less and less of an issue and I'll find both the time and energy to make it happen.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today, It Begins...

Today marks a new beginning. But in truth every day marks such a start. And if you want to take the analogy further so to does each moment. I've started tracking my calories again. Not because I'd gained weight but because I want to be more focused on my training and racing this year than I was last year. It isn't that I didn't take my training seriously but more that my capacity to train specifically was limited by things like my weight, my health, and my obligations outside of triathlon. One of the things I've been looking at is my habit of focusing on projects and people that are not within the sphere of my interests. This is my polite way of calling these things something other than "time stealers."

But that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I begin to burn the following equation into my brain for the rest of the year.

Time Stealers = Opportunity Thieves = Life Wreckers

I began to consider why it was that I hadn't accomplished more of my goals and I had to look at where I was spending my time and energy. Even now with all that I've learned, I still find myself falling short of my actual goals. And I have no one to blame for this but myself. To be honest, there was no real reason I stopped counting my calories in the first place. The only thing I can come up with is I let friends and family and my own short sightedness sort of take my focus away what I wanted to accomplish with that process in the first place.

So here I am, not any heavier, thank goodness. But I am finding my energy levels are waning and my desire to train isn't quite where it was. The only reason I have for this is I am again eating more food and my energy levels are lower because I now have to digest it. So I've started the calorie counting again. And my promise to myself is to do this until the season ends this year for me in November.

Today's workout I was a no show. On Sunday I want to at least get in a long easy swim. But I was sleepy all day. And one of my new rules is no working out while I'm sleepy. But I was productive. I modified my caloric intake targets to follow my actual activity levels. So no activity can mean I eat less, while higher activity means I get to eat a little more. This way as I progress throughout the season I can fine tune what I need to eat based on what I'm actually doing. No more guessing. And no more losing focus. Tomorrow, I'll start out with a run around the lake followed by a bike ride. The middle of my day will consist of a nap an acupuncture session, and teaching my yoga class. I'm serious this time. No more messing around helping other people chase their dreams. This is the start of a new chapter, and a new fitter, stronger me. And today it begins...